The fear and hesitancy over the COVID-19 vaccine heightened in parts of Tamil Nadu in the wake of the death of actor Vivekh who died after a cardiac arrest on April 17, two days after he took the jab.
While doctors confirmed his death had nothing to do with the vaccine and the actor himself had advocated in his last press conference that people should shed vaccine hesitancy and come forward to take the jab, some of his fans, co-actors and YouTubers linking his death to the vaccine and questioning its efficacy, only increased the problems in rural areas.
“We are afraid to take the vaccine after the death of actor Vivekh. What if something happens to us as it happened to him,” said Rani Ammall in Rattinamangalam, a village of about 3,000 people in Arni, Tiruvannamalai district.
Rani, 55, was hesitant to take the vaccine when it opened for people above 45 years of age. But the actor’s death shook her belief that everything would go fine. “We were fine and are fine so far. Nothing happened to us in the last year. So we are not willing to take risks with the vaccine,” she says.
In the same village, Ramani, the supervisor in charge of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, said they had identified 80 eligible beneficiaries and arranged for a vaccination drive on Sunday, April 18. But following the actor’s death, many failed to turn up for vaccination.
“Many told us they would not take the vaccine as rumours spread about linking his death to the vaccine,” Ramani said. “People ask us for a surety that nothing would happen to them and we shall be held responsible if something happens to them post-vaccination.”
Following the incident, she says they had to cancel the vaccination drive and ask people to go to government hospitals and take the jab whenever they were ready.
“A few people aged above 45 got hospitalized for various reasons in surrounding areas like EB Nagar and Adukkamparai. So people are quick to link all these and show hesitancy,” she adds.
In another village in the same district, A Rajanbabu, the block development officer at Porur’s Pernamallur village, says about 2-3% of the population cite actor Vivekh’s death as the reason for vaccine hesitancy. “We are creating awareness. We have taken the vaccine and told people that it’s safe. But we find it hard to convince, particularly in the wake of an actor’s death as it raised unnecessary doubts,” Rajanbabu said.
Tamil Nadu recorded a decrease in the rate of vaccination between April 1 and 10 compared to March 21-30. It was also the time of elections in the state. However, post elections, the number of inoculations increased and a total of 48.14 lakh persons have been inoculated so far in the State, according to the State Health Department. Between April 6 and April 20, nearly 15 lakh people got vaccinated, averaging lakh doses a day.
People in Kovilpatti, the actor’s home town, too, showed hesitancy towards vaccination. “Many people don’t convey the exact fear they have in mind which makes it difficult for us to convince them. But since it’s voluntary, we are not forcing people. Soon they will realize its safety,” said Dr A D Boscoraja at the public health department in Kovilpatti in Thoothukudi district.
But a retired member of Tamil Nadu Doctors’ Association Dr M K Ponnuraj in Tamil Nadu’s Hosur said the actor’s death had no impact in his region. “In general, after the second wave people have come to understand that vaccination is the only way to save lives. Every day we see people coming to GH and getting vaccinated. The phobia and fear are not much here,” he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday filed a complaint against Tamil actor Mansoor Ali Khan for allegedly spreading false information and linking actor Vivekh’s death to the coronavirus vaccine.
The Tamil Nadu Health Department even called a press conference to dispel the rumours and deny any links between his cardiac arrest and the vaccine shot the actor received. State Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan said about 830 people, other than the actor, were administered Covaxin at the same hospital on April 15 and all of them were fine.
Chennai Corporation Commissioner G Praksh even warned of action against those spreading misinformation on COVID-19 vaccine and speculating about the actor’s death. “Action will be taken against those spreading rumours. The last message of the actor was about how people should get vaccinated. To respect and honour the man, we should spread the message and not rumours,” Prakash said.